About Literature Reviews

A literature review typically summarizes and synthesizes what is known on a particular topic. The steps below help you to understand the core process of a literature review:

  • Defining your research question 
  • Finding literature 
  • Managing your research 
  • Synthesizing the literature 
  • Writing your literature review 

The review process is iterative – as you gain understanding, you’ll return to earlier steps to rethink, refine, and rework your literature review. For the complete HGSE tutorial on literature reviews, visit the Gutman Library Tutorial Repository – Literature Review: A Research Journey.  

Search for Articles

The most efficient way to find journal articles is to search a library database that contains publications related to your topic, instead of searching individual journals. Below are two top picks for articles about language teaching:

Begin with the 3-in-1 Education Articles database to find articles on your topic. 

Follow these steps:

1. Identify keywords: choose the major concepts of your research topic as your keywords or identify words from your research question that are most important to your search (e.g. multilingual, language teaching, language learning).

2. Construct a search: put the keywords you've chosen in the search box. Note: put quotation marks around phrases. 

A screenshot showing the search of keywords "language learning" and "technology enhanced"

3. Click search and then use "Refine Results" in the left menu to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles and articles published in recent years if relevant. See an example:

A screenshot of the Refine Results: check the Peer Reviewed box and adjust the publication year to 2013 to 2023 if relevant.

4. Review your results. If you have a very large result set, try refining your search terms to subject terms and add additional search terms to scope your search (i.e. adding an age group or a certain type of learners whenever appropriate). One tip to identify the right subject terms is to scan the Subjects under each record on the search result. See the example below:

A screenshot showing how to identify a subject term from a search record.

After identifying the appropriate subject terms, modify the initial search string to the following: search computer assisted language instruction in the subject field. Add a population search term such as high school students, if that's your targeted learning group, to further narrow down the search results. Note: Use * to truncate the root of the word to search for results that may include the variations. For example, parent* retrieves parent, parents, parental, parenting, parenthood. 

See the example below:

A screenshot showing the subject search.

5. If you have a limited number of results, you could follow the search tips below to broaden your search. Using OR to connect synonyms or similar keywords will help you get more results on the topic.

  • language teaching -->"language teaching" OR "language instruction" OR "language acquisition" OR "second language"
  • technology-enhanced --> "technology-enhanced" OR "technology-integration" OR "technology assisted"
  • high school or college students --> "high school*" OR college* OR universit* OR "higher education" 

See the example using the above search terms:

A screenshot showing searching the bulleted search terms using OR.

6. Want to look for additional articles? Use these same strategies to search in Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA). The interface is different, but the approach is the same. 

Annotated Sample Literature Review

The annotated literature review example from James Madison University illustrates the main structure of a literature review and articulates the areas a writer should pay attention to. 

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